Groningen, Holland (Capital) - Encyclopedia

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GRONINGEN, a town of Holland, capital of the province of the same name, at the confluence of the two canalized rivers the Drentsche Aa and the Hunse (which are continued to the Lauwers Zee as the Reit Diep), 16 m. N. of Assen and 33 m. E. of Leeuwarden by rail. Pop. (1900) 67,563. Groningen is the centre from which several important canals radiate. Besides the Reit Diep, there are the Ems Canal and the Damster Diep, connecting it with Delfzyl and the Dollart, the Kolonel's Diep with Leeuwarden, the Nord Willem's Canal with Assen and the south and the Stads-Canal south-east with the Ems. Hence steamers ply in all directions, and there is a regular service to Emden and the island of Borkum via Delfzyl, and via the Lauwers Zee to the island of Schiermonnikoog. Groningen is the most important town in the north of Holland, with its fine shops and houses and wide clean streets, while brick houses of the 16th and 17th centuries help it to retain a certain old-world air. The ancient part of the town is still surrounded by the former moat, and in the centre lies a group of open places, of which the Groote Markt is one of the largest market-squares in Holland. Pleasant gardens and promenades extend on the north side of the town, together with a botanical garden. The chief church is the Martini-kerk, with a high tower (43 2 ft.) dating from 1477, and an organ constructed by the famous scholar and musician Rudolph Agricolo, who was born near Groningen in 1443. The Aa church dates from 1465, but was founded in 1253. The Roman Catholic Broederkerk (rebuilt at the end of the 19th century) contains some remarkable pictures of the Passion by L. Hendricx (1865). There is also a Jewish synagogue. The large town hall (in classical style), one of the finest public buildings, was built at the beginning of the 19th century and enlarged in 1873. The provincial government offices also occupy a fine building which received a splendid front in 1871. Other noteworthy buildings are the provincial museum of antiquities, containing interesting Germanic antiquities, as well as medieval and modern collections of porcelain, pictures, &c.; the courts of justice (transformed in the middle of the 18th century); the old Ommelanderhuis, formerly devoted to the administration of the surrounding district, built in 1509 and restored in 1899; the weigh-house (1874); the civil and military prison; the arsenal; the military hospital; and the concert hall.

The university of Groningen, founded in 1614, received its present fine buildings in classical style in 1850. Among its auxiliary establishments are a good natural history museum, an observatory, a laboratory, and a library which contains a copy of Erasmus' New Testament with marginal annotations by Luther. Other educational institutions are the deaf and dumb institution founded by Henri Daniel Guyot (d. 1828) in 1790, a gymnasium, and schools of navigation, art and music. There are learned societies for the study of law (1761) and natural science (1830); an academy of fine arts (1830); an archaeological society; and a central bureau for collecting information concerning the province.

As capital of the province, and on account of the advantages of its natural position, Groningen maintains a very considerable trade, chiefly in oil-seed, grain, wood, turf and cattle, with Great Britain, Germany, Scandinavia and Russia. The chief industries are flax-spinning, rope-making, sugar refining, book printing, wool combing and dyeing, and it also manufactures beer, tobacco and cigars, cotton and woollen stuffs, furniture, organs and pianos; besides which there are saw, oil and grain mills, machine works, and numerous goldsmiths and silversmiths.


The town of Groningen belonged originally to the pagus, or gouw, of Triantha (Drente), the countship of which was bestowed by the emperor Henry II. on the bishop and chapter of Utrecht in 1024. In 1040 Henry III. gave the church of Utrecht the royal domain of Groningen, and in the deed of gift the "villa Cruoninga" is mentioned. Upon this charter the bishops of Utrecht based their claim to the overlordship of the town, a claim which the citizens hotly disputed. At the time of the donation, indeed, the town can hardly be said to have existed, but the royal "villa" rapidly developed into a community which strove to assert the rights of a free imperial city. At first the bishops were too strong for the townsmen; the defences built in i i 10 were pulled down by the bishop's order two years later; and during the 12th and 13th centuries the see of Utrecht, in spite of frequent revolts, succeeded in maintaining its authority. Down to the I 5th century an episcopal prefect, or burgrave, had his seat in the city, his authority extending over the neighbouring districts known as the Gorecht. In 1143 Heribert of Bierum, bishop of Utrecht, converted the office into an hereditary fief in favour of his brother Liffert, on the extinction of whose male line it was partitioned between the families of Koevorden (or Coevorden) and van den Hove. Gradually, however, the burghers, aided by the neighbouring Frisians, succeeded in freeing themselves from the episcopal yoke. The city was again walled in 1255; before 1284 it had become a member of the Hanseatic league; and by the end of the 14th century it was practically a powerful independent republic, which exercised an effective control over the Frisian Ommelande between the Ems and the Lauwers Zee. At the close of the ,4th century the heirs of the Koevorden and van den Hove families sold their rights, first to the town, and then to the bishop. A struggle followed, in which the city was temporarily worsted; but in 1440 Bishop Dirk II. finally sold to the city the rights of the see of Utrecht over the Gorecht.

The medieval constitution of Groningen, unlike that of Utrecht, was aristocratic. Merchant gild there was none; and the craft gilds were without direct influence on the city government, which held them in subjection. Membership of the governing council, which selected from its own body the four rationales or burgomasters, was confined to men of approved "wisdom," and wisdom was measured in terms of money. This Raad of wealthy burghers gradually monopolized all power. The bishop's bailiff (schout), with his nominated assessors (scabini), continued to exercise jurisdiction, but members of the Raad sat on the bench with him, and an appeal lay from his court to the Raad itself. The council was, in fact, supreme in the city, and not in the city only. In 1439 it decreed that no one might trade in all the district between the Ems and the Lauwers Zee except burghers, and those who had purchased the burwal (right of residence in the city) and the freedom of the gilds. Maximilian I. assigned Groningen to Albert of Saxony, hereditary podestat of Friesland, but the citizens preferred to accept the protection of the bishop of Utrecht; and when Albert's son George attempted in 1505 to seize the town, they recognized the lordship of Edzart of East Frisia. On George's renewal of hostilities they transferred their allegiance to Duke Charles of Gelderland, in 1515. In 1536 the city passed into the hands of Charles V., and in the great wars of the 16th century suffered all the miseries of siege and military occupation. From 1581 onwards, Groningen still held by the Spaniards, was constantly at war with the "Ommelanden" which had declared against the king of Spain. This feud continued, in spite of the capture of the city in 1594 by Maurice of Nassau, and of a decree of the States in 1597 which was intended to set them at rest. In 1672 the town was besieged by the bishop of Munster, but it was successfully defended, and in 1698 its fortifications were improved under Coehoorn's direction. The French Republicans planted their tree of liberty in the Great Market on the 14th of February 1795, and they continued in authority till the 16th of November 1814. The fortifications of the city were doomed to destruction by the law of the 18th of April 1874.

See C. Hegel, Städte und Gilden (Leipzig, 1891); Stokvis, Manuel d'histoire, iii. 496 (Leiden, 1890-1893); also s.v. in Chevalier, Repertoire des sources hist. du moyen dge (Topo-bibliographie).

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